Legend of the Mountain [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (2nd August 2018).
The Film

This is not a film for those seeking a rapidly moving thriller jam packed with CGI special effects and snappy dialogue. No, this is an old school production from Chinese Wuxia pioneer King Hu and it decidedly takes its time with its storytelling and pacing. This was his third film, after directing the hits "Dragon Inn" (1967) and "A Touch of Zen" (1971). This film was loosely based on a Chinese ghost story, taken from Pu Songling's “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” that dates back to the Quing Dynasty, whose earliest publication date is estimated to be 1740. The entire production was filmed on location in Korea, shot simultaneously with another film, "Raining on the Mountains" (1979). Both films shared cast members and many of the locations were in both films.

The film opens on Mr. Ho (Chun Shih) an underemployed scholar who didn’t make the cut come finals time and now works as a glorified copyist. Yes, he is a human Xerox machine, copying religious texts in long hand, a tedious occupation for sure. Hired by Buddhist monks to copy an ancient sutra that pertains to have the power to release “lost souls”, they send Ho to a remote fort in the mountains so that he can work in peace where he is greeted by the friendly host Tsui (Lin Tung). No sooner has he settled himself in his quarters, he is accosted by a local busybody Madame Wang (Rainbow Hsu) who immediately makes herself his maid and cook. In exchange for these services, perhaps he can find time to tutor her daughter, Melody (Feng Hsu), a mere child in her estimation, but in reality a striking talented beauty. Plied with wine, Ho finds himself overwhelmed and soon drunk, and after a night of injudiciousness, Ho awakens to find himself practically a married man. Things move fast in these ancient fortresses after all. Following a birds and bees montage, King Hu fills the screen with some barely seen shots of the two on their wedding night and despite her name, Melody is skilled in a specialized form of drumming. Ho is clearly smitten with his new wife, and she could give Gene Kupra a run for his money on the skins. But hold on viewer, these are no ordinary instruments of percussion, they have magical powers, and Melody seems to be a master of the black arts. Before long we are clued into the fact that Melody and her chatterbox mother are not as innocent as they first seem and that they have been scheming to find a way to abscond with the sutra texts for their own evil purposes.

Earlier in the film while Ho was traveling to his destination, a mysterious figure in white kept appearing to him only to vanish just as suddenly. Now on a trip to the market, accompanied by Tsui, they both stop by a local tavern where Ho is introduced to the hottie named Cloud (Sylvia Chang). She is apparently the tavern keeper’s daughter and after a little wine, Ho is about busting at the seams with anticipation of enjoying her company. He asks Cloud if he has met her previously and she answers that she doesn’t think so; then he asks her whether or not that was her playing the flute as he walked to the fort. Cloud plays dumb and poor Ho falls for it again. Apparently this guy is a sucker for a pretty face and now he has two women fighting for his attention. Ho still doesn’t get that he is a pawn in a romantic triangle, but Director King Hu has more on his mind than the pleasures of the physical world. And who exactly is this orange clad Lama (Ng Ming-choi) that keeps appearing in the background, seems like he is an expert on the drums as well. Meanwhile while the plot slowly advances, Hu is busy filling the screen with all types of nature shots: incredible waterfalls, lush vegetation is all over the place, and the sun is like a burning ball of orange as it slowly sinks into the horizon. Hu’s camera is constantly on the move, sweeping in and out of the frame, capturing the beauty of the ancient structures of the encampment. You can get lost in this scenic delight, but don’t lose track of the main characters in the film because by the third act things begin to become pretty strange.

Hu is deliberately making the film seem like a Taiwanese fairytale and in the last half of the film, it all begins to tie together. Turns out that this is a real life ghost story and that the supernatural elements of the plot that were hinted at earlier, now come to full fruition. The scene between the evil Melody and the Lama is an amazing piece of footage. These two go at it full tilt, but instead of martial arts and fists, it is a musical battle, with both warriors feverishly drumming and various explosions occurring around them. It is a battle for Ho’s soul and his sacred books because Melody is a ghost that continues to walk the earth, and in Ho she has found the perfect victim. Plus he has in his possession the sacred sutras, and those could allow her to take full possession of her complete unearthly powers. Meanwhile we also learn of Cloud’s murder, at the hands of the jealous Melody, and that she too is a ghost. No wonder the fortress was abandoned; the entire place is haunted and these ghosts mean business. Forget about those creepy films with little girls with their hair hanging in their faces, emitting a nasty gurgling sound; Hu makes his ghosts look pretty hot and now they are battling each other. The soundtrack is a crazy drum solo with all types of traditional Chinese instruments being struck or banged together: cymbals crash, drums gallop along at a crazed pace, and there is magic happening all over the place as the two ghosts fight to the death, well, that isn’t right, they’re both dead already, as Mr. Ho basically looks on. I will not spoil the ending for those that are thinking of taking in this three hour meditation on all things both here and not there, but make sure that you are fully awake to take this all in. King Hu is a master filmmaker and he obviously has a lot to say about the world.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression from a a beautiful 4K restoration. This is the first time that "Legend of the Mountain" is available for home viewing. Do yourself a favor and think about adding this slice of the supernatural to your collection, the image looks great considering the film's history of being chopped up and Asian films aren't archived to the same lengths as Western films, flaws are evident mostly due to the age of the film, but they can be forgiven.

Audio

A single Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks is provided, the sound is very good. There’s plenty of drumming throughout and the sound is very well defined. Conversations are in Mandarin and they so speak quickly so pay attention or you’ll miss something important. Optional subtitles are included in English.

Extras

Kino Lorber has included an interview with film critic Tony Rayns entitled "Tony Rayns on Legend of the Mountain" (21:29), where he espouses about the film and its great beauty.

A video essay is also included by film critic Travis Crawford (18:15), illustrated with many stills from the production.

There's a photo gallery (4:57).

The film's original theatrical trailer (1:49) is included.

Finally a booklet features an essay by novelist Grady Hendrix, an insightful essay about Hu’s career and this film in general.

Packaging

Comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case with a reversible cover.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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